Older Reading

Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, Robert Pogue Harrison (This book is remarkable.)
A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece, edited by Jane Jacobs (I picked this up at the Strand Annex closing sale, the Alaska connection and Jane Jacobs involvement made me buy it. It’s a great story, a remarkable portrait of the people who fulfilled America’s Dreams in the new territories.)
Netherland, Joseph O’Neill (A really well-told story with some very well-observed moments, and happily, one of the first novels I’ve read in ages—I miss them tremendously.)
Only as Good as Your Word, Susan Shapiro (I’m taking a class with Susan and ended up buying one of her books. Glad to see that not all advice books some in the form of lists and quips, it’s more of a memoir, really.)
The Treasure of the City of Ladies, Christine de Pizan (My mother bought this for me while we were visiting the Cloisters on her recent trip to the city. It’s not an action-packed read, so don’t expect it, but there are some great bits of history in there, and a disturbing number of timeleess bits.)
The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, Susan Bell (By far among the better of the writing books I’ve ever read.)
The Playwright As Thinker, Eric Bentley (Read about it in an article in American Theater about criticism and given my recent spate of theatrical reviews, I thought it might be interesting. The point that seems to be coming up again and again in many sources is the notion of how persistent the lack of serious attention to the art theater has been, and how light the interest in it, on the part of public, has been since the outset. Interesting to so constantly be reminded of this of late.)
The Reasons of Love, Harry G. Frankfurt (His easy style and concision make this book a light but thoughtful read. It’s about love, but not precisely in the way you might anticipate. I enjoyed it and found it largely convincing.)
One Day A Year, Christa Wolf (This is a great book, but no small commitment. Wolf is a rigorous and very poignant writer and watching her struggle and decipher and decline and decide through 40 years is quite a trip. Highly recommended, but be warned.)
ARTSCIENCE, David Edwards (This book has an incredibly self-congratulatory tone throughout, which made it repetitive and dull to read, but there are loads of useful examples beneath the rhetoric.)
Holes, Louis Sachar (Recommended to me, this is the first contemporary children’s book that I’ve read that doesn’t pander to its audience. It was an enjoyable read and had just the right mix of magic and reality.)
The Diamond Makers, Robert Hazen (Needed to read this to do some research for a project that I’m working on. Should have read it a couple of years ago when I was working with a handful of the ‘diamond breakers’.)
Writings, Agnes Martin (I don’t know that I’ve ever read an artist’s writing that was as deeply ascetic. It’s moving in that, if nothing else, this joy and seriousness that resulted in such rigorous and good work. I am a great admirer of much of her work.)
Crome Yellow, Aldous Huxley (The last of the Huxley books. Now I’ve read them all. The main burst of reading was as an undergrad, so it’s been a few years now. Never was a better comparison made than between this book and Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson. Good ol’ Brits.)
Six Characters in Search of an Author, Luigi Pirandello (I realized in reading this, that I had never read it before. That was odd.)
The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream, Jacob Hacker (Although this is a policy book and is meant to influence using some scare tactics, I’m afraid the scare tactics had a more lasting effect than the solutions offered, as he is nowhere near as detailed or clear about his proposed solutions as he is about the mire we find ourselves in. Nevertheless, you can’t really fault him for telling the truth, it’s just that the truth is pretty damn scary.)
Right You Are (If You Think You Are), Luigi Pirandello (I was always an admirer of Pirandello, but it was worth remembering why. This is a very strong piece of writing, even a bit ferocious.)
The Great Man, Kate Christensen (It’s a strong device that she’s using here—narration by the three women in his life. And of course the book is about them, the man is not really a sympathetic character. There is something good here, but I think it would have been better if the playing field had been a bit more even between his ladies and him. But good for the writer for getting the PEN/Faulkner, I liked the sense of this book being a project as well as a story.)
Creative Time: The Book, edited by Anne Pasternak (There’s a lot in here, and it’s clear (and they admit it) that they’re seeking an organizational document, but there’s still some great writing and ideas in it.)
Beyond the Myths: Mother and Daughter Relationships in Psychology, History, Literature and Everyday Life, Shelley Phillips (I have so much to say about the things in this book, so much. And there’s so much in it. I think the mother-daughter conflict is central to feminism in a way that has never been acknowledged and freedom from it is the first step to real liberation.)
American Avant-Garde Theatre: A History, Arnold Aronson (Needed a bit of background for a piece that I was working on—not a bad survey, though I’m sure there is much to disagree with.)
The Extra Man, Jonathan Ames (A friend indicated that the characters in this book somehow mirrored certain aspects of the life he aspires to here in New York. The old man is a great character, but the writing is a bit shoddy, I think.)
A Trip To Niagara, William Dunlap (A truly remarkable piece of spectacle-based early American theater from 1830, replete with dioramas, the real Leather-Stocking and all the glories of the Hudson Valley.)
A Woman In Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Carl Bernstein (What’s remarkable here is what the sheer force of will can accomplish, even when it isn’t in the best interest of the person who is willing it.)
Break of Day, Colette (This book, maybe more than any other I’ve read recently, represents a kind of essential example of writing as a testing out of a hypothesis—one that Colette herself did not end up choosing to pursue outside these pages.)
Two Serious Ladies, Jane Bowles (Too much like someone I used to know, was more creepy than funny.)
Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler (What a spectacle of metaphor and simile. The story hardly matters with Chandler’s use of language.)
Dubliners, James Joyce (There’s no denying that I’m jealous of his command of a place, but the inability of emotions and wills to align seems to be the thing he has even better command of here.)
On Love, Alain de Botton (Bought this years ago in Providence. Never got around to reading it. M. de Botton is what he is, but the lesson still manages to peak through his hubris—there’s no thinking through that mess.)
Living by Fiction, Annie Dillard (The more I read of her the more impressed I am. This one is particularly pointed. And I always love a good polemic.)
Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939, Katie Roiphe (Gossip is gossip, literary or not. I’m just as guilty as the next one.)
Reading Like A Writer, Francine Prose (See note about educative mood below.)
Poetics, Aristotle, translated by S.H. Butcher (In an educative mood lately, and wanted to reread this—the last reading was in college. It seems to me that he missed the most important question—not how to write effective tragedies, i.e. like those of his predecessors and contemporaries, but why tragedy has persisted as a form for as long as it has. But that wasn’t his aim, or I suppose he would say he did answer that question, but I’m not giving it to him, gall-darn-it.)
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard (Oh, Virginia, what a state you are. And my first prolonged experience with Ms. Dillard—the rewards were many.)
Letters to a Young Artist, various contributors, compiled by Art on Paper magazine (Half graduation speech, half interesting stuff—a clever little book.)
Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (Okay, I admit, it’s a good read.)
The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert (There’s little else to say other than this is a masterfully painted portrait.)
The View From Castle Rock, Alice Munro (Not a bad read, a great way to string a collection of stories together, but my mind was prone to wandering—whether it’s me or the book, I can’t say, and this hardly constitutes a review—nor do any of these comments, for that matter.)
Samuel Johnson is Indignant, Lydia Davis (There’s something about that dead pan delivery that gets me every time.)
Night Flight, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Because I will always love the sensation of flight and Saint-Ex for capturing it so beautifully.)
The Magic Toyshop, Angela Carter (I like some of her other stuff, but I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled by this one, though I do have a bias against juvenile narrators…)
Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, Mary Edwards Wertsch (Because both my mother and I are military brats and I was working on an article about a documentary on military brats.)
Growing up with a City, Louise de Koven Bowen (My mother discovered this relative of ours in her research. Eager to know more about any social reformer in the fam, I bought myself a first edition. I can’t necessarily recommend the book, but the bits in between the words reveal more than anything about the lady, I think.)
Three Pigs in Five Days, Francine Prose (I’d never read anything by Prose, and I have to admit I picked up a volume of her novellas—this one included—on my way to Lydia Davis’ translation of Proust at the library, but there it was all the same. I’m not sure I would recommend this one in particular.)
Life Interrupted, Spalding Gray (The power of a story well told remains, despite everything else.)
Art & Science, Siân Ede (A wonderful range of subjects are woven together here in writing that is neither obtuse nor obscure. I thought it was very well done.)
A Backward Glance: An Autobiography, Edith Wharton (Because even thought there’s a brand new and well-remarked biography about her, I still like to hear it in her own words and see all the ways she tries to cover herself up.)
A Man Without A Country, Kurt Vonnegut (Ah, Vonnegut. A surly old fellow. Sorry he is so sad with the world, sorry the world made him so sad.)
The Group, Mary McCarthy (Remarkably for its frankness alone, though the storytelling itself is worth its own remarks.)
The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith (I figured I had to read at least one of her books after reading her biography this past summer. What was striking was how transparent the style writing and the flow of the writing are. There’s something in it that captures the feeling of watching an athelete accomplish a difficult physical feat and seem not even to break a sweat.)
Les Femmes Savantes, Molière (Not one of his more challenging pieces.)
La Dame d’Espirit: A Biography of the Marquise du Chatelet, Judith Zinsser (A lady I have long admired and the most admirable biography of her so far.)
M. Butterfly, David Henry Hwang (A remarkable piece to read up against a book by Hardy, in highlighting the idea of a woman created in man’s imagination.)
Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy (It’s difficult to know what to say in response to this novel. I wanted to read a book about the struggle between the mind and the heart, or the intellect and the ‘animal’ as he puts it, but I’m afraid it was too much of something else for me. That being said, he’s a brilliant observer on many points.)
The Plague, Albert Camus (Borrowed from a good friend while living in her room for a week.)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith (Because what else does a girl read when she’s moving to Brooklyn?)
Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy (Recommended by the ever effervescent Katharine Peachey, the best UK actress I know. A pleasure to read. A well told and straight-forward story. Not as easy to find these days on the literature shelves.)
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The Man Himself (Went to his old house in London to have a look around, couldn’t resist picking this up on the way out.)
Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley (Right, well, a 500+ page book in the midst of exam studies may seem foolish, but a mind needs a rest once in awhile. And you have to admit it’s quite an impressive piece of work.)
Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne (I couldn’t resist, even though I ought to be studying, this school business is hopeless I fear…)
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner (I can offer no insightful commentary on this one, if I could on any that I’ve read. I can only say it was a wonderful novel, wholly absorbing through every page, allowing the story to tell itself, the characters to play their cards, and offering innumerable insights into what we still can’t quite seem to grasp—America.)
Daughter of Earth, Agnes Smedley (I picked this up while on a brief visit to Edinburgh, in one of the used bookshops, recognizing the authoress’ name, Agnes Smedley, from the title of a biography of the same person which recently came out. The book is long since out of print I gather, and by the price I paid, I don’t gather anyone anticipates it will be of interest any time soon, but I can recommend the book highly to those that can find it, if for no other reason than the fact that it demonstrates well the the conflicts between ideals and life.)

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